Wireless Industry Praises Infrastructure Package

The wireless industry praised several features of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein applauded the establishment of a ‘one agency, one decision’ environmental review structure, to eliminate many of the inefficiencies companies face when building out mobile networks. “The plan also calls for the reduction of duplication in using categorical exclusions, lowering the cost and time of wireless broadband buildout,” said Adelstein.

Adelstein, a former FCC Commissioner, chaired a working group on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee that made recommendations to ease siting on federal land, Inside Towers reported. The plan incorporates many of the suggestions, according to the WIA executive, who says: “By taking these specific steps to encourage private investments and to reduce barriers to the deployment of the wireless networks, the White House is positioning the U.S. to lead the world in mobile connectivity and the deployment of 5G networks.”

USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter said closing the digital divide, particularly in the nation’s most difficult to reach rural areas, requires dedicated and adequate capital – both financial and political. USTelecom is working with Congress and the administration to get 21st century infrastructure priorities right, he said. “Broadband providers have invested more than $1.6 trillion over the past 20 years to connect our communities, but significant, direct support from the federal government is critical to bringing broadband’s benefits to all.”

“Calling for a substantial portion of infrastructure funds to be dedicated to rural projects, including rural broadband, and easing permitting processes that hinder the timely deployment of broadband networks are both essential parts of a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges faced by those seeking to deploy and operate wireline and wireless telecom infrastructure alike in rural America,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. She added that solving the business case for rural broadband investment and ongoing operations will require a greater commitment of resources. NTCA too, is eager to explore “how such funding can be made available and most effectively utilized,” said Bloomfield.

One trade group, ITTA, the voice of America’s Broadband providers, was not effusive. ITTA President Genny Morelli said the plan misses the mark. “While ITTA recognizes that streamlining the federal permitting process for broadband projects on federal lands is needed and represents a good start, it will not move the needle substantially for those millions of rural American consumers waiting for broadband speeds that will ensure connectivity for years to come.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the plan a welcome and strong call to action. “Too often, regulatory barriers make it harder and more expensive to build out broadband than it needs to be—to the detriment of American consumers.” He too, pledged to work with the administration and Congress to turn the plan into a reality.

Of course, reaction from Congress was mixed. House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) applauded the president’s “vision” and welcomed his partnership as the committee tackles several shared priorities. Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune (R-SD) said “Through this guidance and letting Congress have the opportunity to write bipartisan legislation, President Trump has offered us direction to meet infrastructure needs in our nation’s states, cities, and rural communities. Aligning federal infrastructure funding with local priorities and looking at other impediments to building would increase accountability and help us meet our most critical infrastructure needs faster.” Thune said he looks forward to working with Ranking Member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other colleagues on both sides of the aisle to discuss and incorporate their ideas and priorities into legislation.

Nelson, meanwhile said: “We need to make real investments – not cuts – in Florida and communities around the country. That’s why I plan to work with Chairman Thune and my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee to try to come up with a bill that can garner broad support and include ideas from both parties.”  

However, some GOP lawmakers say broadband requires dedicated funding. Senate Broadband Caucus co-chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Politico last month, if the White House doesn’t include a specific broadband set-aside, lawmakers should “reshape” the plan, otherwise, state governors would be tempted to use the funding for roads and bridges and not broadband. Aides to GOP leadership member Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) say he agrees.

February 13, 2018

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